Reinventing Count Dracula

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On the cover of the myths and legends-inspired short story anthology These Our Monsters just out from English Heritage, I depicted Dracula because both the undead Count and his creator, Irish author Bram Stoker, appear in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s The Dark Thread. Burnet’s brief Whitby-set conjuring of Dracula as imagined by his author sent me to my bookshelves to take a look at how the Count is described by Stoker in the 1897 novel. In films Dracula has been depicted as darkly handsome with a deadly allure and sensuality. But that’s simply not the way Stoker introduced him:

Below: the first ‘Dracula’ sketch in my These Our Monsters project-book

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“His face was very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth.”

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From Christopher Lee in the 1958 – 1973 Hammer franchise to Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992) via Frank Langella reprising his Broadway success as the Count in a Dracula (John Badham, 1979) with a distinctly erotic charge, the ‘Prince of Vampire’s’ cinematic appearances have been constantly in flux, endlessly reinvented to suit the tastes of the age. But the bushy eyebrows and the mouth-obscuring moustache were left between the pages of the original novel, film-makers preferring the undead to be smooth-faced. (Gary Oldman sported a trim moustache and goatee with shoulder-length curls as he pursued Winona Ryder throughout much of Coppola’s film, more dreamy musketeer than vampire Count, so she understandably buckled at the knees when he swooped in for a lick!)

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The changes wrought in translation are understandable. A film is not a book and an illustration doesn’t have to follow to the letter the text that underlies it. For my own Dracula I invented an ancient-parchment complexion, criss-crossed with lines. I ditched Stoker’s description of pointed ears (too Spock-like for a post-Star-Trek generation) but stuck with the straggly moustache because I liked the idea of the unholy trailing and dripping mess it would make when the vampire fed. I retained the unibrow, though replaced Stoker’s description of the Count’s sombre dark garments with the dandy’s delight in exuberant colour. My sartorial Dracula has a very fancy waistcoat!

Below: the cover art underway. Whitby Abbey is just an outline at this stage.

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Stoker can’t have known and couldn’t possibly have imagined the popularity of his monster reinvented into a plethora of iterations, and that’s not including the Dracula-inspired inventions that go by other names in cinema and fiction, starting with director F. W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film Nosferatu which unwisely drew on the novel without acquiring permissions from the author’s widow. First she lobbied the producer with demands for compensation, but when it turned out there was no money to be had, gained a court order requiring that all the prints of the film be destroyed. Today there would be no Nosferatu had a few prints not slipped through the net.

The Count from Transylvania has stuck like a burr in the imaginations of creators and audiences. We can’t get enough of him. I loved honouring the tale on the cover of  These Our Monsters. I read not only Burnet’s story in order to make the cover, but Stoker’s novel too. (Twice.) I’d illustrate it in a heartbeat were the offer to come my way.

Below: my first version of the cover, with the lettering given more space and the EH logo placed bottom left.

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Below: wrap around dust-jacket in a storm of my trademark oak leaves.

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Edward Carey’s ‘Little’

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Among the contributors to the short story anthology that’s being published by English Heritage this month, is Edward Carey. When I saw his name on the list of writers responding to some of the English Heritage sites with mythic/folkloric associations, I recalled reading a glowing review for his novel Little. I duly acquired a copy and read it.

Edward is both a writer and an artist. He makes images to accompany his novels. Little, illustrated throughout with many drawings, is a staggering feat of research married to imagination, a compelling, page-turning history of Anne Marie Grosholtz, better known today – thanks to waxworks attractions around the globe bearing her name – as Madame Tussaud.

The book nailed my attention. Here was a writer who’d uncannily entered the mind of a known eighteenth century woman, channeling her into a first person account with her character fully formed and vibrant throughout the narrative. The Marie of Carey’s Little feels utterly real and present. Moreover he magnificently and dreadfully sets her down in that bloodiest period of civil unrest, the Revolution. A clammy sense of dread pervades the second half of the book as Paris sinks into malign chaos. The aristocrats and their supporters may have been the first to be rounded up and executed, but in the ensuing upheavals of rival factions, civil dissolution and score-settling, you could go to the guillotine at the whim of a jealous neighbour because you’d violated a dress-code. The world had turned in on itself and gone mad.

It’s been said that in later life – and with her waxworks a famous attraction in London – Marie Tussaud’s published account of her early life may have stretched the facts to better make a story. She claimed to have been a teacher of art to the King’s young sister Elizabeth, living for nine years by invitation of the royal family in the palace of Versailles. She claimed to have known the King and Queen. Later, back in Paris in the cataclysmic turmoil of ‘la Terreur’, the story goes that she was forced to take plaster casts from the decapitated heads of people she had once known in order to make wax effigies of them to be displayed and ridiculed. Whatever the truth of that, Carey makes the idea viscerally plausible, and his accounts of what it must have been like to carry out such grim work are convincingly and startlingly detailed. If Marie Tussaud – a great show-woman and self-promoter – did partially manufacture her history, adding a darker lustre to justify the more outrageous elements of her waxworks attraction, then Carey has done a magnificent job of adding flesh to the bones. She owes him a huge debt of gratitude, because she’s now going to be better known as the Marie of Little, than as the Madame Tussaud of her biography. He’s even made her portrait for the book in a pastiche of her times, which will now be the one I feel most truly represents her.

 

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Ed’s short story for the English Heritage collection gave me wonderful inspiration for the illustration I made to accompany it. A few weeks after I’d completed and submitted it, the editor Katherine Davey told me that he’d asked her to pass on how much he liked the image, and enquire whether I’d agree to be contacted by him. We started e-mailing each other almost immediately, and we’ve been e-mailing ever since. We’ve exchanged drawings. I’m now the owner of a delicate pencil image he made for Little, one of many in the book which are supposed to be the work of Marie’s hand. By way of exchange Ed has the drawing of a ‘goblin child’ I made for his title story of the English Heritage anthology, These Our Monsters.

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It’s a wonderful swop. I particularly like that the drawing I have is of a model of Marie created – in the novel – by the young man she loves. It’s a rather grotesque wooden doll that could be mistaken for Mr Punch’s Judy, so it couldn’t have been better chosen for me given my passion for puppets. What a happy experience working on this project has been, and what a lovely drawing transaction.

 

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These Our Monsters

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This project for English Heritage has been under wraps for months but is now being publicised ahead of launch. It’s been a lovely to work on contemporary stories steeped in the traditions of folklore, myth and legend, inspired by eight sites in the care of English Heritage. I’ve made the cover and sixteen illustrations.

It’s been my great good fortune on These Our Monsters to have Katherine Davey at English Heritage as my editor. We’ve discussed all aspects of the book at every stage, and her unflagging enthusiasm has been a tonic during the occasionally gruelling schedule to get the work completed within the deadline.

The dust wrapper image is of Bram Stoker’s Vlad Dracula, who makes an appearance in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s story The Dark Thread set in and around Whitby. Macrae’s Count references Stoker’s original description in his novel Dracula, which is far from the darkly handsome vampire played Christopher Lee in the glorious Hammer Horror films of the 1960s and 70s. Women willingly surrendered themselves/swooned into the enveloping folds of Lee’s crimson-lined cloak, whereas Stoker’s Count is monstrous without a hint of sex-appeal. However, to make up for his parchment-like skin and dreadfully straggly moustaches, I’ve dressed him with the dandy’s attention to detail in all things sartorial. A high-collared shirt, a well-tied stock and a waistcoat to die for.

The authors and the English Heritage sites they selected are:

Edward Carey: Bury St Edmunds Abbey

Sarah Hall: Castlerigg and other stone circles

Paul Kingsnorth: Stonehenge

Alison MacLeod: Down House

Graeme Macrae Burnet: Whitby Abbey

Sarah Moss: Berwick Castle

Fiona Mozely: Carlisle Castle

Alan Thorpe: Tintagel

The Making of the Myths Map

My thanks to Gravitywell, the award-winning digital media company in Bristol, for sharing this example of how my artwork for the English Heritage Myths Map was layered by them to create an interactive experience across diverse platforms. This is just a small corner of the map, but you can experience the full effect by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.

 

 

I produced all the artwork for the map, and the entire project was designed, built and launched by Gravitywell in a six week schedule. There were times when it seemed an almost impossibly short time in which to achieve everything, but we did it!

Click here for the full Myths Map experience.

Making the Myths Map

Since February my working days have been pretty much filled with the Myths Map/Telling Tales project commissioned by English Heritage. My brief was to conceive and create artwork for an interactive map featuring myths, legends and folklore associated with selected E.H. sites. Working closely with Gravitywell, the Bristol-based digital agency charged with building the map, I’ve produced all its assets, including the English Heritage Myths Map logo through which the site is entered (see below), the map outlines, textures and topography, the settlements and the E.H. site icons.

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Below: George and the Dragon were built as paper maquettes and then scanned, digitally assembled and animated for the map logo

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Below: drawn elements used to create the settlements of the Myths Map

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Below: some of the many English Heritage site icons I produced for the map

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Animated elements for the map and sea surrounding it, were made by me and digitally animated by Gravitywell. There are deer and birds for the land, and assorted sea monsters for coastal zones.

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Below: Photo credit: © English Heritage/ Abi Bansal

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Below: Kraken maquette and ships

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Below: in the studio I roughly layered elements to guide the animators

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In addition to the map assets, I’m making animation maquettes for use in films being produced by English Heritage about some of the sites and the myths and legends associated with them. The first of these is St Hilda of Whitby, who founded Whitby Abbey and according to legend asked God’s help to clear the site of vipers so the building work could be carried out in safety.

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My attachment to the Telling Tales project extends to producing illustrations on the theme of Myths and Legends for English Heritage Magazine throughout the year, the first of which has been Saint George and the Dragon for the Spring edition.

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No project of this scale can get to completion without the cooperation and collaboration of many, and the Myths Map teams at English Heritage and Gravitywell were sterling throughout. Enthusiasm and appreciation were boundless at every stage, which made the experience a pleasure even when the hours were long and the ‘to-do’ lists were endless. As an artist much of what I do is solitary, but on Telling Tales the sense of work carried out in partnership with enthusiasts, has been the chief pleasure of the project. I’m so pleased it came my way, and my thanks to those who sought me out to play a part.

Click HERE to visit the Myths Map

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The Kraken Surfaces…

… in an animation that’s just a marginal detail – like a tiny but telling image in the border of an illuminated manuscript – within a project I’m working on for English Heritage, the launch of which will be announced soon.

 

The animation began with the construction of a simple maquette of the Kraken, and a drawing of the stricken ship.

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Below, the maquette is placed over the drawing to give a rough impression of how the two will work together.

 

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The schedule allowed for only minimal animation, and to that end the Kraken was a simple build from two layers: a top one of the head with four tentacles, and a layer beneath with two tentacles. While we didn’t have the time to produce a more elaborate ‘coiling’ animation, the two Kraken layers moving independently of each other give an impression of writhing tentacles. All of the animations for this project have to run on loop, and to that end have been designed as tiny narratives that have a start and a finish, and can endlessly repeat.

The Kraken and ship were scanned and delivered, along with my animation storyboards, to our collaborators at the Bristol-based Gravitywell, an award-winning digital agency that develops websites, iphone/android apps, and SEO services. Laura-Jane Alison is project manager at Gravitywell keeping us all to schedule, and Matt Doyle is the lead designer responsible for the animated sequences. I think you can very likely tell from the Kraken animation that we’ve been having a lot of fun with the project. The scans have been digitally coloured according to the palette agreed between me and English Heritage’s supervising art director for the project, Becky Baker.

Artists and illustrators have long been drawn to the notion of sea monsters going head to head with ships, and there’s no shortage of visual material exploring the theme, both historic and contemporary.

 

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The Kraken is a particular favourite of tattoo artists, and in a painting I made some time ago of an inked fisherman, I added a tattoo of a giant Nautilus reaching out to grasp a clipper.

The main source of inspiration for the Kraken in my animation, is this illustration by Denys Montfort in Histoire naturelle, général et particuliére des mollusques: animal sans vertébrés et a sang blanc, Volume 2, published in 1801.

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But for those of you who remember him, I suspect I’ve been channeling the spirit of Captain Pugwash.)